The Israel Lobby’s War on America’s Middle East Oil Dependence
By Maidhc Ó Cathail
The Passionate Attachment
October 26, 2012
A couple of days ago, I wrote about an article in The National Interest magazine by a visiting fellow at a pro-Israel think tank that argued that the United Arab Emirates may be violating the Foreign Agent Registration Act by its funding of ostensibly environmental anti-drilling films. As might be expected, Susan Schmidt’s piece entitled “Lobbying through the Silver Screen” appears to be part of a broader campaign by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies to end America’s energy dependence on Israel’s recalcitrant neighbors.
On October 15, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) website published an op-ed piece by FDD senior fellow John Hannah tellingly entitled “How Oil Dependence Undermines America’s Effort to Stop the Iranian Bomb.” Citing the neocon-mentored Mitt Romney’s campaign promise of achieving “North American energy independence,” Hannah goes on to argue that dependence on Middle East oil not only endangers U.S. economic security but also serves as a constraint on its strategic freedom of movement in the region. “Concerns about oil prices,” claims Hannah, “have often badly distorted U.S. policy toward the Middle East.” As the title of his piece suggests, however, the “distortion” that most troubles the FDD is how this energy dependence makes Washington think twice before doing Israel’s bidding in the region:
The most acute example is the effort to pressure Iran to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions. U.S. policymakers have long known that the most effective step we could take against the mullahs is to cut off Iran’s oil sales and starve them of the enormous revenues they need to keep their repressive regime afloat. Yet for years, first President Bush and then President Obama fiercely resisted sanctioning the Islamic Republic’s petroleum sector. The reason? Because they quite legitimately feared that removing Iranian crude from the market would disrupt global supplies and trigger a devastating price shock. Only in late 2011, with Iran rapidly approaching the nuclear threshold, did Congress finally steamroll the administration by forcing through legislation that targeted Iranian oil.
Even then, implementation of the sanctions was watered down. The administration was given a six-month grace period to assess the possible impact that sanctions would have on the global oil market. And rather than demanding that customers of Iranian oil end their purchases entirely, countries were granted waivers from U.S. sanctions if they only “significantly reduced” their buy — which in practice required them to cut back between 15 and 20 percent. While the U.S. effort, together with complimentary EU sanctions, have no doubt had a major effect on Iran’s economy — reducing its oil exports by as much as 50 percent — a full embargo would have been far more impactful and the obvious course of action for Washington to pursue if not for the countervailing concern about oil markets. In the meantime, the Iranian regime continues to pocket perhaps $3 billion per month from the million or so barrels of oil that it still exports daily, all the while pressing ahead with its nuclear program.
America doesn’t have a higher national security priority than stopping the world’s most dangerous regime from going nuclear. And yet the sad reality is that our dependence on oil has for years, and to our great peril, systematically deterred us from fully deploying the most powerful tool in our arsenal — all-out sanctions on Iran’s petroleum sector — for resolving the crisis peacefully. Not surprisingly, that underlying logic applies in spades when it comes to any discussion about the possible use of force against Iran, where predictions of oil spiking to an economy-crippling $200 per barrel are commonplace.
The fact that our oil vulnerability has put such severe constraints on our freedom-of-maneuver to address the most pressing national security threat we face is deeply troubling.
Fortunately, there is a solution to the think tank’s concerns about U.S. “freedom” to address what it and other pro-Israel groups have worked so hard to convince Americans is their latest “most pressing national security threat.” As Hannah points out, “the United States is experiencing an oil and gas boom that promises to transform our energy landscape in very fundamental ways”:
Thanks to American ingenuity and technology, U.S. production is poised to increase dramatically over the next decade, after years of steep decline. As Governor Romney has correctly emphasized, through close cooperation with democratic allies in Canada and Mexico, the goal of energy self-sufficiency for North America may well be within reach — an unthinkable prospect just a few years ago, and one whose benefits in terms of job creation and economic growth could be quite profound.
Presumably more important — at least from a pro-Israel perspective — than the “potential economic windfall” for Americans is, as Hannah puts it, “how we can best exploit the coming energy boom to really enhance U.S. national security.” For him, enhancing U.S. security seems to be synonymous with going to war with Iran — notwithstanding the view of more objective analysts that this would seriously, if not fatally, exacerbate American insecurity. Nevertheless, according to the FDD fellow, the major obstacle to this supposedly security-enhancing military action are fears that it would lead to rocketing oil prices. To remove this problematic impediment in the way of another war for Israel, Hannah proposes:
It seems that what really needs to be part of the mix is a viable, bipartisan, market-driven strategy for reducing the monopoly that oil has over our transportation sector. If a sensible way could be found to begin moving some significant portion of U.S. cars and trucks to run on cheaper, domestically produced alternative fuels — natural gas, methanol, electric — it would largely eliminate the sword of Damocles that Middle Eastern tyrannies like Iran now hold over the West’s economic wellbeing and its strategic decision-making. That would put us on the path toward true energy independence, and restore to the United States a degree of flexibility, leverage, and strength to pursue its interests and values abroad, especially in the Middle East, that we have not known for at least a generation.
While acknowledging the difficulty of the task ahead, Hannah is cautiously optimistic:
Perhaps once the upcoming election is over, a new administration will be prepared to look seriously at developing a bipartisan, comprehensive energy strategy that both fully exploits America’s new oil and gas bonanza while taking meaningful steps to reduce our vulnerability to extortion by hostile, repressive dictatorships in unstable parts of the world.
And as luck would have it, there is already “one place that a new president should definitely look to mobilize ideas as well as political support.” Explains the FDD fellow:
Securing America’s Future Energy (an organization that I’m proud to advise), […] has brought together an extraordinary group of American business and military leaders to highlight both the economic as well as national security dangers posed by our dependence on oil, and to recommend possible solutions. Co-chaired by Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx and General P.X. Kelley, former commandant of the Marine Corps, the group includes such luminaries as General Jack Keane, former vice chief of the Army; Admiral Dennis Blair, former director of national intelligence; David Steiner, CEO of Waste Management; Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines; and John Lehman, former undersecretary of the Navy.
So there you have it. America’s energy dependence on the Jewish state’s regional rivals may soon by a thing of the past thanks to the ingenuity of the new environmentally-friendly Israel lobby.